A pro-Russian political party in Ukraine advised by Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, designated $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments for Manafort between 2007-2012, according to a bombshell report from the New York Times.
While there is no evidence that Manafort has actually received the earmarked payments, he is “among those names on the list of so-called ‘black accounts of the Party of Regions,’ which the detectives of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine are investigating,” according to a statement from the bureau provided to the Times.
It is unclear what exactly the series of 22 payments designated for Manafort — who advised the Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for nearly a decade before he was driven out of power in 2014 — were for.
But the funds shed light on the “very dirty cash economy in Ukraine” that rewards party loyalists with off-the-books gifts and favours, Daria N. Kaleniuk, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kiev, told the Times.
Company records, moreover, “give no indication that Manafort has formally dissolved the local branch of his company, Davis Manafort International,” the Times notes.
Manafort released a statement early Monday morning denying the Times’ findings and reiterating that he had not received any cash payments from elements within the Russian or Ukrainian governments.
The report comes amid increased scrutiny of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, which exploded late last month after a hack on Democratic National Committee email accounts was tied back to Russian military intelligence. Trump denied any involvement in the hack, but called on Russian hackers to “find Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails” in a now-infamous press conference.
Revelations about the origins of the DNC hack and Manafort’s cash ties to pro-Russian interests in Ukraine also follow the Trump campaign’s decision to alter the GOP’s policy on Ukraine, which has long called for arming Ukrainian soldiers against pro-Russia rebels.
The report, moreover, emerges in light of Trump’s own perceived friendliness toward Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Trump has threatened more than once to pull out of NATO — an organisation Russia views as a threat — and has spoken highly of Putin more than once.
“He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump told MSNBC in December.
On Thursday, Trump told CNBC that during his administration, he “will be friendly with Putin.”
Some have accused the real estate mogul of not releasing his tax returns because they may show that “he is deeply involved in dealing with Russian oligarchs,” Conservative columnist George Will told Fox News late last month.
As journalist Julia Ioffe noted in a piece for Foreign Policy, however, Trump’s own influence among high-level Russian figures may be overstated given the difficulty that he has had throughout his career in securing lucrative real-estate projects there.
In any case, along with Manafort’s ties to pro-Russian actors in Ukraine, Trump’s seemingly shady financial overtures to Russian oligarchs have resurfaced this year, perhaps as evidence that the real-estate mogul or his top advisers may be tangentially linked to Russian attempts to undermine the Clinton campaign.
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